Mill St – Letter from John MacDonald

Mayor Vrbanovic, Councillors
I would ask please that on Monday evening Councillors defer this matter, after listening specifically to delegations that may question the process undertaken to date with respect to this development application. The staff report makes much of a “Neighbourhood Working Group” and I ask that Councillors listen carefully to delegations from this group as to how they view the process that has been unfolding in the past year. The staff report appears to be of the opinion that the neighbours will continue to have concerns with the scale of the development on this property, but (to paraphrase?) “It’s time to move on?” or “Because they hold these concerns consistently, it is futile to address them.” I’m not sure citizens were contacted much at all since March of 2020 regarding this file, so I don’t understand how the report can conclude the futility of doing so.

I have little knowledge of the present climate and appetite among councillors for granting developers’ requests for further height and mass than allowed by present zonings or present long range planning exercises and documents. It will be argued I suppose that inclusion of the pittance of affordable housing (inclusion at least in theory but I’m not sure enforceable even at that small number) is a “win” for the community, and makes the best of a bad business that will be approved by the LPAT/OMB in any case. This is an improper view, and I hope one that you do not share.

My apologies for Repetition. I feel some duty to provide the input once again, although it will be provided by many of the delegations to the public meeting.

Our community’s long range neighbourhood plans already take into account the higher level growth mandates (Places to Grow Act, Provincial Policy Statement, etc) by working the necessary density (and more) into the new plan. I suspect this will not matter. The statement by planners at City (in long range planning) that these higher tier requirements do not trump more local considerations of site and zoning and Official Plan and compatibility will not likely matter. In previous delegations to Councillors I have asked that Councillors verify the truth of these items with planning staff. I wonder if that has been done. I fear such facts do little to alter perceptions in the face of the planning industry mantra that these provincial edicts must be directly obeyed at the level of an individual site, no matter the context or the local planning decisions.

What will matter is whether as councillors and mayor you wish to once again come down on the side of “growth and investment” by the planning/development/investment industry rather than quality of neighbourhood and quality of life for citizens, and how you view your role. I believe that balancing public interest and private profit motives is best dealt with during overall long range planning for our community, and the creation of our Official Plan and Neighbourhood Plans. We endorse our priorities and values there, and they must be honoured. Individual files and approvals are not the appropriate forum for rejection of the results of those exercises in compromise and design, and their determination of the “maximum allowable” that is acceptable to our community. I ask that you consider and perhaps accept this view as well.

The proponent will likely argue for trickle down effect of these development investment units, so that the overall stock of housing may be increased. This is a view which conflates an investment unit with a housing unit. Housing units are a desperately needed thing, so housing becomes more affordable. Someone might be so kind as to provide me with some evidence that adding more units for investors who then rent them out at rates determined by their pro forma calculations helps those in our community who desperately need affordable housing options. I’ve seen no case for this, and much to the contrary. A lack of that evidence need not worry us, however, if we subscribe to the “it’s just common sense” feature of most trickle-down arguments.

The above, combined with the staff report and recommendation, gives ample cover for decisions that once again view the community as a landscape of investment and disinterested private profit rather than a community in which we live and belong. The reasons on each side will be stated, and then a judgment will be rendered “in the community’s larger interest”. I fear once again that this larger interest corresponds too closely with private profit motives, in exploiting opportunities in neighbourhoods that have been nurtured and cared for by the residents and businesses that call them home. These citizens genuinely seek managed growth and change that addresses their quality of life and the very real struggles of those of us less privileged than the investor class and the planning industry that supports it. These are the very members of our community that provided input into the Schneider Creek Neighbourhood Plan, and perhaps mistakenly thought they and the development industry and City planning staff were reaching an acceptable vision for the MAXIMUM allowable heights, density, and disruption that can be considered in the public interest.

Alas, these residents may learn that the exercise was not intended to govern all in our community, and certainly not the investment / planning / development industry.
Once again, clearly stated, I believe this is the wrong site for such massing and impact on its Context

The location in the floodplain means underground parking is not an option. The developer argues in turn that increased mass, effect on the streetscape and Iron Horse Trail, and effect on neighbourhood are therefore necessary at this site to get the development to a “normal” density of units needed for respectable private gain, and the massing effects of above-ground parking should be therefore discounted.
The developer and its planner (still a former planner recently employed at the City of Kitchener? Or a new group?) of course will argue that the development is compatible, point to the Iron Horse Tower and other approved development as precedent, and bring forward shadow studies that “prove” the compatibility. 

It’s a neat trick to take a site in the floodplain so that you can’t be asked to invest in the more expensive underground parking that might reasonably be requested. Keeps development costs down and increases profit. Beauty!
Its location in a floodplain is precisely why this is a poor location for this density of units, with their commensurate parking. The development is better suited to our core, where long range plans have long asked that such development occur. An argument that this development is indeed in our downtown core, or significantly next to rapid transit, is misleading at best.

Thank you.

Thank you to those that will speak and once again go to bat for other values than private profit at public expense. I ask that you please listen to them, and if nothing else allow the community time to respond to what has suddenly appeared in their lap after 11 months of little to no contact. A deferral is warranted.

I applaud the efforts of those that will once again make the reasonable arguments for endorsing long range plans developed with citizen and development industry input rather than the time honoured and planning expectation of setting them aside in favour of a one-off approval in response to carefully cultivated and favourable staff reports regarding the uniqueness of the situation. I applaud those councillors who may vote against the development approval, and endorse our community planning processes through the Neighbourhood Plans and the Official Plan. That is indeed a long term vision for our community and its leadership.
Approval of this development in its present form will once again drive home the point that citizens, in participating with these long range planning processes that were touted as guiding the future of the neighbourhoods (specifically including this property) have been engaged in an exercise of distraction. A feel good handout while the real business of investment and profit is undertaken “on the other hand” and in private consultation with the planning industry. I fear the new Schneider Creek neighbourhood plan will simply be the tool to govern the behaviour of small property owners and not the development industry, planners, and its class of investors who are once again given the signal that they may set it aside in favour of their private motives.

Approval of the development will provide another place for off-shore and out-of-town money to safely park its cash, and community as “landscape of investment”. This underlies significant aspects of our affordability crisis, and provides further argument for lack of public investment in actual housing affordability.

Perhaps we should focus on the process and its lack of transparency in the last year. Is our planning department, working in the public interest, really two departments? One of long range planning in the community’s interest, another of professional planners (some who skip back and forth into employment in the development industry as in the case with this file). With things happening largely behind the veil one would hope that our planners who work for our community would stick to the plans developed in consultation with that community. Perhaps instead they see themselves as stewards of a time honoured (or simply unchangeable?) Planning Act process that gives the developer the right to come forward and ask for more. More than the community has judged as the maximum compatible with “good planning”. As Councillor Marsh has pointed out, the developer does have this right. Do our community leaders and planners believe they have the right in turn to say no? to stick to the plan developed in consultation with all members of community (including members of the development industry)? Or do our values as community leaders correspond more closely with a view of community as “landscape of investment opportunity” in line with private industry objectives?

This file and decision will once again inform citizens as to where priorities lie, and provide answer to this question.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

John MacDonald (he/him),  OAA, MRAIC

Principal 

John MacDonald Architect inc. 

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